22. 12. 2022 (Kuba Špiřík)
From the media we receive an avalanche of reports that the gaming industry is replacing the film industry, or that games are the Czech Republic’s biggest cultural export. Oddly, the clickbait titles of these articles with their dizzying numbers often fail to mention Brno, which is one of the main drivers of this success. Afterall, video games put down their roots in Brno at the beginning of the nineties, since when dozens of studios have blossomed, accompanied by a highly active community of game developers, academics, and enthusiasts.
Whether we’re talking about the first commercially sold PC game Tajemství oslího ostrova (The Secret of Donkey island), which was created at the Gymnázium Slovanské náměstí secondary school with the participation of then students Jarek Kolář and Petr Vlček, the first ever dubbed game Dračí historie (Dragon History), again emerging from Brno’s secondary education system, the logic game Fish Fillets, or indeed the strategy game Original War, designed under the creative leadership of Vláďa Chvátil – all these 90s projects, which almost every adult Czech gamer looks back upon with a nostalgic tear, originated right here in Brno. We hear the names Kolář and Chvátil again a few years later, this time on the global stage. Jarek Kolář engraves his name on gaming’s rifle butt with the series Vietcong and Mafia, Vláďa meanwhile moves away from video to board games and co-founds the world-famous studio CGE, where he creates one of the most successful board games in the world – Krycí jména (Codenames). What’s less well known is that the boss of the studio Amanita Design, Jakub Dvorský, responsible for the games Machinarium and Samorost, cut his teeth in the spawning grounds of Brno’s gaming scene, where he played a role in developing the aforementioned Dračí historie and other titles.
Lead UI Designer at the Brno studio Ashborne Games – a subsidiary of the publisher THQ Nordic, a prime mover behind the Gamer Pie festivals and game activities, proud member of Herní Klastr, occasional scribbler for Level and ZeStolu.cz, a passionate game player and musician (performing his own pieces as well as game music), and servant to Jimi the cat.
Machinarium by Amanita Design
In the Brno games arena we come across smaller teams, for example those behind titles like Mashinky or the horror game Someday You’ll Return, as well as bigger companies like Bohemia Interactive with its Arma series, or Madfinger Games, who, after creating mobile games like Dead Trigger and Shadowgun are now targeting consoles and PCs with an as-yet unannounced game. Recent years have seen the emergence of several new, decent-sized studios that are working on other, still secret releases. We can point to Ingame Studios, for example, beavering away under the leadership of Jarek Kolář, who’s now been namechecked a few times, and Ashborne Games, a studio working under the umbrella of Viennese publishers THQ Nordic as well as under the wing of another Kolář, this time Petr, who previously lead the team that created Vigor and Arma 3.
Someday You’ll Return
World-standard Czech horror adventure
We could devote plenty more paragraphs to Brno’s smart developers or to its enthralling and successful games, so it’s probably better if we take a look, instead, at the portal Brno The City of GameDev, which maps Brno’s games studios, games, job vacancies and events.
Discover the Brno gaming world
Where best to find new reinforcements for the video game industry? The role of educating and nurturing the next generation of game developers has also been taken on by Brno’s universities. At Masaryk University’s Faculty of Informatics, students can choose to get a Master’s in computer game development, while at the same university’s Faculty of Arts, giving lectures on game studies or game design is now commonplace. Over at the Brno University of Technology’s Faculty of Fine Arts, we again find a whole Game Media Studio, where students and teaching staff work in parallel to create fascinating games under the brand Ateliér Duchů. Nor should we forget to mention secondary schools, where quite recently a new Game Art department was established at the Secondary School of Art and Design (SŠUD Brno), which is matched by the Computer Game Development department at the Secondary School of Arts and Management (SŠUM).
Showreel of digital games developed in 2019-2021 at VUT Brno.
Strong Brno community
But a games industry cannot live on games alone. Which is why it must have a thriving community, which in Brno is lively in the extreme. Every month game developers, teachers and students gather at the club Music Lab for the GameDev Area Meetup. Here they can listen to a lecture from one of their colleagues before chatting over a dewy pint. Rivalry? You never see it here. Instead you’ll overhear collective disgruntlement regarding useless tech, or else the enthusiastic sharing of ideas and experience.
Besides holding their monthly meetups, the people around GameDev Area are also responsible for the international Game Access Conference, which since 2016 has been drawing game creators to Brno from all corners of the world. This videogaming industry conference regularly pulls in over 1,500 visitors, who come to take part in lectures, panel discussions, networking, as well as to enjoy unique parties at some of Brno’s iconic locations. Horizons are broadened in design, narration, programming, visual creation, production, sound, and marketing, and the experience of colleagues from home and abroad is soaked up with giant sponges.
Game Access Conference 2019
But GameDev Area doesn’t stop there. It also organises concerts of video game music, collaborating with (among others) the Brno Philharmonic, where you will hear (or will have heard) pieces composed for the soundtracks to Kingdom Come: Deliverance or the Mafia series. Also fresh in the memory is the event Game Access Connect, which targeted the general public and focused on video game education.
Not only for game developers, but also for players and fans of the medium, the Gamer Pie festival is a match made in heaven. Since 2016 it has sought to bring together all aspects and every hue of video games, and to present them with the help of lectures, workshops, or exhibitions, whether for the broad mass of public or curious individuals. But the festival is not the only string to their bow. From time to time, games are played in public with a live commentary, episodes we call Game-Tasting (Herní degustace), where we pick apart interesting games from the Czech Republic and abroad. One aspect of community bonding concerns the game quizzes held in the café at Kino Art. Everything happens in an informal and relaxed atmosphere.
Drivers of the game community from the Game Cluster
All the items described above are supported by an independent coalition of actors in the games industry known as Herní Klastr. Its primary goal is to link up and support all these projects, whether they involve game development, education, or even work in the public sector. It also helps institutions, students, the media, and those interested in the gaming industry to navigate their way around the world of video games. It also has its fingers in the newly starting Herní inkubátor, which supports and gives advice and space for new teams and video game projects.
Visit Herní klastr
In Brno there’s an incredible amount of activity happening around video and board games, and this article has zero chance of capturing the full breadth of everything that’s going on in gaming. But it can serve as a good signpost and basic overview of the friendly atmosphere that runs through the game capital of Moravia.
In short: whatever’s good, it’s in Brno.
Phenomenon is the work of a specific author (Kuba Špiřík); it does not express the official views of the City of Brno or TIC BRNO.